Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Surgeon General Connects with Teens

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Surgeon General Connects with Teens

Article excerpt

Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was making her third appearance at Eastern High School, and she was preaching to the converted about staying in school, going to college and excellence. Anyone who has heard the glorious Eastern choir knows that excellence is alive and well at Eastern and that pride is present.

For inspiration, she is all you could ask. She grew up chopping cotton - "no one could be poorer than I was" - but black and proud she persevered, in the military and in medical school until "now I am your surgeon general."

The teens she was talking to at Eastern are immersed in encouragement. Their principal is Ralph Neal, a tall, forceful man who makes it clear that he "will tolerate no misbehavior." Every day he and his staff fight the beasts that stalk city schools - truancy, violence, failure, teen pregnancy.

They have their victories. They have an academy sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services that prepares students for jobs in medicine. The school has been adopted by United Airlines, spurred on by The Washington Post, which offers $500 in college fees for students with A's and B's. Its world-class band played in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

"We have everything we need here," says Jason Thomas, a 16-year-old junior who is in the academy studying to be a physical therapist.

Neal, who took over 10 years ago, tells visitors that he has high expectations of his charges and that 65 percent of Eastern graduates go on to college. Attendance has dramatically improved, and Eastern has won a national drug-free award.

Of Eastern's 1,000 girls, only 25 are pregnant. In view of the staggering figures on non-marital teen-age births, this is an achievement.

The only subject on which speaker and audience might have disagreed about was the one Elders came to talk to them about, the crisis in teen pregnancy. The rate for white pregnancies has doubled in the current year. Overall, the number of teen pregnancies out of wedlock is 67 percent. All talk of welfare reform begins with these figures.

The principal at Eastern advocates abstinence, but the school nurse gives out condoms. …

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